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Anabel and Valkyrie disembarked as soon as the ship docked at the Northern Islands. Valkyrie needed to rush off to bring the Island Ruler up-to-date, but Anabel didn’t want to venture that far. She wanted to be near when the ship was ready to continue its voyage. Anabel thanked her friend, asked her to extend thanks to the Island Ruler, and went off in search of something to eat. Not too far from the docked ship was a small, nondescript shop with an emblem on the door that resembled a beer token carved inside a dog’s barrel. She could hear the refined strings of a violinist as if being led by a melancholy conductor. Inside, the atmosphere was warm and hazy and the soft singer’s voice very soothing. Anabel sat at a small table lit by a spiral candle and Maid Joan served the Northerner’s favorite foamy drink. After relaxing to one more song, Anabel reached into her lucky purse and placed a lucky coin on the table.
A few steps from the inn a shop carried local artists’ wares. A poisonous eye charm and sleeping dragon statue seemed incidental. The real artistry was in a painting that caught Anabel’s eye. It seemed to depict the yin and yang of life, dark/bright, intuitive/logical, good/evil. The image appeared to have two separate sides and yet the sides were complimentary and interrelated to one another. The shop keeper said the painter used a celestial artist’s brush (that transcended time and space) and paints of cosmic matter, which gave the painting its ethereal quality. Anabel purchased the artwork, together with a star necklace and matching star bracelet, both inlaid with meteorite pieces. The shiny pendants would forever remind her of the trip to Titan Town and the young king’s story.
A joyous sun beat down on the land of Midnight Castle as Anabel arrived. She stopped at the florist and bought an elegant pot shaped like an emerald nut. The shop had a sea horse door ringer that tinkled and the little raven outside began singing with its bell-like notes. Joyful Anabel smiled as she spied a window with roses and the poor umbrella lady on the corner who didn’t stand a chance of making a sale today. She felt as if a good fairy was riding on her shoulder.
As the path became more earthen, a hedgehog, thrifty with his freshly caught hull of insects and worms, quickly hid. She picked wild flowers and golden apples from the trees and caught sight of a pack paw belonging to an alpha wolf. And as Anabel made her way home, she thought of the Knight and how their story truly was that of a swan’s fate. Swans mated for life and there was a dyad adage about the pairing of two sensitive beings, making them one. The power of that dyad was as strong as life itself, and the individuals therein shared a connection spanning space and time.
As she hurried off to her very own Tower of Dreams, Anabel knew she could bring back the Chamberlain and make everything right with the world. But only time would tell.
*******to be continued
Inventory words from July 6, 2020 and September 17, 2020
Fall was in the air, Anabel’s favorite time of year. Any other time, she would be enjoying the early morning ice tear dewdrops meeting the first rays of the sun, becoming little dawn crystals twinkling on any surface they touched. After that, the season would quickly change and a frost pattern, resembling an intricate snow emblem oblivious to melting or fading, would begin forming on the windows. But the beauty of her favorite time of year eluded Anabel as yet another night of restful sleep eluded her.
All was quiet after her return trip from Henry and Valkyrie. Everyone seemed to think the power to free the Chamberlain lay within her, but Anabel wasn’t sure. Either of herself or her future should the Chamberlain return. At first, Arabella wasn’t a problem. She seemed to accept the Chamberlain disappeared after suffering a humiliating loss to the Knight. But Anabel wasn’t able to shake the feeling of impending doom that enveloped her ever since becoming the Chamberlain’s keeper.
While on a trip into town to visit the Knight’s favorite weapon maker, Torrum, Anabel was approaching the stargazer tower when its harmonious bell began tolling. Hesitating for a moment under the tower’s silent gargoyle canopy to enjoy the melodic bell, Anabel spotted Arabella leaving an herbalist’s shop. For an infinitesimal span of time, everything moved in slow motion and Anabel was sure she caught an imperceptible glance of recognition from Arabella. But there was no overt act of acknowledgment from the witch as Anabel watched her move out of sight.
Next to the weapon store was the old tavern, and Anabel was sorely in need of an adult beverage. Her nerves had been rattled by the sight of Arabella and she knew facing the Chamberlain’s wrath was inevitable. The elvan woman took her order as Anabel laid a few Elvish coins on the bar top. The tavern was a true melting pot of Midnight Castle residents; dwarves, elves, vampires, werewolves, goblins and even some humans. A whole gamut of tastes encompassed the tavern, from the huge fan dancer painting above the bar, to the table of treats in one corner that displayed an elegant crystal swan centerpiece to the opposite corner where a bear sculpture stood menacingly over the basilisk meat rotisserie. Thank goodness for a plentiful wine cellar. Anabel picked up her drink and moved to a darkened corner of the tavern, desperately hoping to sort out the mess in her head.
Arabella watched Anabel out of the corner of her eye for quite some time. When Anabel stopped, the witch thought for sure she had been seen. But Anabel wasn’t paying attention to her; rather seemed to be enjoying something. Arabella knew her father very well. While it was true he absolutely hated losing to the Knight, it was decidedly not true the Chamberlain would just slink away somewhere and hide. That wasn’t his style at all. He was most definitely a plunge right into the fray type of guy. So the idea that her father would simply disappear, licking his wounds, never sat well with Arabella.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary about Anabel until, for a split second, her mask of calm and assuredness dropped and revealed something else. She was edgy, cautious, and perhaps even afraid. Just then Anabel turned and their eyes met. Arabella saw all she needed to see. Positive of Anabel’s involvement in her father’s disappearance, the witch walked at a deliberate pace out of the sun and towards the darkness. As she embraced the town of shadows, she knew Anabel’s eyes were following her. A sinister moon sickle smile grew across Arabella’s face as she began fomenting a plan that could possibly destroy all of Midnight Castle
As the clock tower began tolling out the hour like an inspiring drum striking fear into the enemy, Anabel knew it was time to head home. Near the center of town stood a wishing well and Anabel felt in her purse for the many-sided coins she brought back from the Northern Islands. It was easy to discern the triangular coins even in the dark as she dropped a few into the well. She didn’t necessarily believe throwing coins into a hole would result in good luck, but why spit in the eye of fate?
Rounding the corner by the shadowbird’s tree to head towards home, Anabel passed a doghouse with a huge chimera bone hanging over the dog’s food bowl. Anabel rushed past it, loathe to make contact with the nefarious guard dog who could eat a bone deemed too tough for most dragons.
By the time Anabel reached the front door, the castle was quiet with only one small light illuminating the way. The hushed silence of sleep filled the air, but sleep was the last thing on her mind. Anabel rushed into the pantry to retrieve the specimen jar containing the butterfly-morphed Chamberlain, having long since moved it from the grandfather’s clock in her bedroom. The Knight could have accidentally come across it there and the pantry seemed a more prudent hiding place, since he never crossed its threshold.
She broke the salamander’s seal on the lid and peered into the jar. The once vibrant and magical aura of the butterfly was gone. Anabel remembered it appearing lifeless before, but had hoped the Chamberlain gave himself an “out” to his spell. But it was very apparent he didn’t and the poor butterfly wasn’t far from returning to the dust from whence it came.
Anabel couldn’t save the Chamberlain alone. With just the tiniest flicker of magic, it would have been possible. But this required a power much stronger than Anabel could muster. She obviously couldn’t ask Arabella for help, but there was another witch rumored to live beyond the forest edge, deep within the forest of shadows. Suddenly resolute in her decision, Anabel was keenly aware the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t. Going one-on-one with the Chamberlain was familiar, but Arabella frightened her. She felt the urgency to hurry, grabbed the jar and raced out the door.
Arabella was busy with the machinations of potion making and imbibing evil spirits. So filled with the thirst for revenge against Anabel, the witch yet again completely disregarded the rules of the Witches’ Council. She was bound and determined to exact punishment not only on Anabel, but everything Anabel loved, including her family and her castle. Part of it was the long seething hostility born out of the Knight’s dispassionate feelings towards her when they were married. And the other part, although to a lesser degree, was retribution for the Chamberlain.
Over on the witch’s stove sat the burning book of heinousness. This banned tome was once in the possession of the Chamberlain, but Arabella took possession of it when she turned her father into a pudgy, purple bat. Centuries’ worth of evil was contained in this book, the magnitude of which wasn’t even known.
Arabella touched the assassin’s pin high up on her neck and delighted in the casual way she’d been able to relieve Valeria of Chris Arwin’s gift. As if the meek Valeria could do justice to sporting such a pin. She was no assassin, despite the many hours of training at the hands of Chris. Being an assassin took more than physical strength and power, it took sturdiness of mind and spirit. Valeria’s nature didn’t allow for the kill or be killed approach; whereas Arabella had no such compunctions.
After an interminable amount of time walking through the shadowy forest, Anabel finally reached her destination. The hut of Morisa, the forest witch, came into view. It stood higher than the ground on tree trunk legs and was surrounded by flower of promise hedges protected by an enchanted scarecrow. It was rumored that by touching those flowers, the whispered promises from everyone around the world could be heard. Anabel leaned against one hut’s leg in a futile attempt to compose herself before knocking on the witch’s door.
She needn’t have bothered though, because the door swung open in an unmistakable declaration of her arrival. Timidly stepping through the door, Anabel felt oddly at peace. Her senses weren’t immediately assailed by any sights or smells that were known to permeate Arabella’s abode. Above the potion table against the far wall were tiny drawers with labels like golden claw, lion’s paw and twisted horn. A huge barrel with secrets was positioned next to the stove and, seemingly out of place, a small crystal raven hung over the window. On the wall above the huge fireplace was a picture of a cat playing chess, giving a little insight into the witch’s playful nature.
Morisa introduced herself to Anabel and Anabel felt immediately at ease. She relayed the entire story of the Chamberlain morphing into a butterfly, her trip to the Northern Islands to find a way to break his spell and the fear of Arabella’s fury. The witch listened intently then turned and began mixing a potion. She crushed one diamond tear from a beautiful fairy’s eye with a drop of flower heart essence to make a paste; then squeezed just enough tears that fell from the sky from the star girl’s eye to thin out the paste. Morisa chanted incantations unknown to Anabel, and inserted the precious fluid into an eyedropper. Anabel couldn’t imagine how a potion amounting to only a couple teardrops was powerful enough to do anything, but she knew better than to question Morisa.
Morisa opened the jar containing the all-but-dead Chamberlain and sprayed the potion gently around his wings. Anabel couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw a shimmering light begin undulating across the butterfly’s wings and down its body. There was life and Anabel was truly convinced of Morisa’s power.
It would take some time, but the Chamberlain was provided with the catalyst for his rebirth; it was all up to him now.
From the darkness, a small, waiflike creature emerged and introduced herself as Nala. Apparently, she was once apprentice to the High Mage of Frost but lacked the discipline to become a fully recognized mage. So Morisa agreed to help her with her spells in exchange for Nala assisting in unusual or complicated cases. Gently Nala turned Anabel’s hand over and began tracing something on her palm. Then she inserted a golden quill tip into the quill of forgotten secrets, dipped it into invisible ink and began drawing some secret mark onto Anabel’s palm. But when the job was finished, Anabel’s palm was blank. She looked from Nala to Morisa and back again, but Morisa just smiled.
Now that the Chamberlain was taken care of, there still remained the matter of Arabella. Anabel’s showdown with Arabella would require something extra. Once again, Morisa turned to her potion table and the stove. For the first time, Anabel noticed a star opal right in the upper middle of the witch’s stove, resembling an eye. Anabel had no idea what its significance was, but she wasn’t about to question anything. Morisa grabbed bottles of insidious orchid scent and shadow snake venom. Anabel had no experience with either ingredient but knew of legends surrounding both. The insidious orchid scent came from a hypnotic orchid said to lure the unaware into its deceptive embrace and the shadow snake venom was milked from an unknown species of shadow snake and no one knew its effect on the living. Morisa then dipped a hatpin into the deadly mixture and inserted the poisonous pin into a reinforced vial that had been charmed by nine witches to hold any venom or acid. She slipped the vial into a bunch of North berry pearls and pinned the whole thing, like a brooch, to Anabel’s lapel.